Wednesday, March 30, 2016


I notice as I progress further in my chemo treatments (now starting the 4th cycle of 3-week infusions out of a total of 6) that my brain is shredding. Like the skin you peel off your body after sunbathing too enthusiastically. Or the dust cloud when you remove your socks, entirely composed of flaky skin.

I try to remember dates and can't. I attempt to reclaim the word for something simple like "Generator," which we will install later in the spring, and cannot find it no matter how long I poke around in my brain. I am reduced to talking like someone who is trying to master English--possibly from Serbo-Croatia--and not quite getting there. "You know, honey, that thing we turn on when the power goes out so we can flush...(brain rummage) toilets and turn on the...(brain rummage) lights?"

I have to tell you this is damn humiliating for an English major and a professional writer who has published 50 children's books in my long and satisfying career. To have words fly off into space like some red-face booby? Honestly God, couldn't you help me out here?

Perhaps I shall resort to what one of my kids did in High School to remember things--use my palm as a palm -pilot, writing notes in ink on the skin--shower, email, panninis, wash wig when?

So this is my confession of a corroded brain, but I am noticing lately that my fabulous husband is suffering from some of the same problems. He will start to walk briskly into the kitchen, pause, then mutter, "Why am I here?" I will call out, "Coffee?"  "Yeah, that." 

He recently was on the phone checking into dental coverage for one of our grown kids, and I know the insurance rep on the other end has just asked, "What is the birth date of your child?" Rick pulls the phone away from his ear and shouts to me, "What is the birth date, Annie?" Once off the phone he admits, "I knew it, I just couldn't access it." Sounds familiar.

This is happening a lot. It could be discouraging, but actually it is occasion for laughter. I think it's funny that my brain is more wobbly--like my legs and hands. 'Cause I know it won't last. Once we're out of the chemo thicket, my brain, energy, and steady hands will come back. And for my husband, the same will be true. As I tell him, "Lucky you are so damn brilliant because even if your brain is shredding, you still have more to work with than many."

This earns me a loving smile, which goes a long way towards helping the trembly brain.

Thursday, March 17, 2016


I should be glad that I still have two eyes which basically work. Notice the word "basically," which means one of them isn't worth much. I am grateful I can see--mostly--and that my right eye is darn nifty. But the left one...

The reason for going into this (surely you are interested in my eyesight?) is to explain that applying makeup in the morning so I don't frighten the horses has become an ordeal. Picture this:

--First I smooth Dr. Hauschka Quince Day Cream over my face, the delicious smell lifting my spirits.  Then comes beige concealer beneath my eyes, along the brown spots on my cheeks, and over odd bits and pieces above my brows indicative of too much sunbathing in the Caribbean.

--I grip my lip-liner firmly, as my hands are trembly this morning, and I don't want to make mistakes.  Ooops!  Up to my nostrils I go, trying to define my lips. They were here a few seconds ago. Where in hell did they go? Maybe they are cavorting with my left eye in some boozy dive. Anyway--the lip-liner skids and misses, but because I can't see so well, it doesn't much matter. 

--Next comes the lipstick, applied carefully with a slight wobble within the wavering line. Not too bad. Now I look like everyone's grandma in church in the mid-fifties; all I need is one of those cool fold-out plastic hats to keep my hair from frizzing. Oh, wait, I forgot. I don't have hair. Perhaps my wig will frizz? More research is needed.

--Then comes the expensive eyebrow kit. I peer at the 3 plastic templates for my disappearing brows: one says, Fine (nope, too little); another Medium (looks good); and the third is full which looks like Einstein's facial hair. I seize the "Medium" template, plaster it carefully over my right brow, dip the brush in the brown powder, and stroke back and forth. When I remove the plastic, the right shape matches the exuberant and inaccurate lip-liner and zips way above the former natural line. I shrug my shoulders. We can't afford to be picky here. On to the left, which suffers the same disordered hand and comes out looking like Lucy Arnez's eyebrows

in the skit where she makes candy with Edith.

--Did I forget to mention eyeliner, either liquid or solid pencil? If my hand is too trembly I have to use the solid, as the liquid could go all to hell and back. Drawing lines on pulled-down eyelids doesn't seem to go well. Perhaps some of my kids' old crayons would work better?

--Panting slightly I smooth Benecos Organic "Honey" foundation (organic because we don't want to get cancer!) over my skin, paying special attention to the pouchy bits beneath my eyes. Perhaps I need some cucumbers there, or steak, which I could then eat raw to keep up my hematocrit levels for chemo.  I start to hum, thinking I am making good progress as I pat on the translucent bronzing tint from Dr. Hauschka, which makes me look as if I had just run gaily through a meadow under a bright sun.

--Last to come is the black mascara, filling out the sparse hairs, and time for the wig from Raquel Welch. Tug it over my ears, and I am ready!

Bright orange mouth a tad off center; eyebrows lavishly drawn and expressing either surprise or disgust; foundation and tint applied with no big lumps; and--ta-da!--I am a graduate of Picasso's Makeup Salon.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016


As I dealt with yet another gut upset this morning, I thought about how out of control my body sometimes feels now I am going through chemo; how, when I go into the hospital, sit in the barcalounger, and wait for a friendly nurse to stab my port to start the infusion, I know I am not in control. This is sobering, humbling, often frustrating, and another one of those blessings where I learn a crucial life lesson. Damn it.

This is what's going through my mind now as I watch my hands tremble on the keyboard like some absinthe-addicted Parisian of the 19th-century.

Christ shows us how to keep walking when we are not in control, when life seems arrayed against us, when even our ability to walk across the room on wobbly legs seems uncertain.  I rather suspect that He looks at me askance, a slight smile on his face. "Yeah, Annie, I know how you love being in control! How proud you were of doing 10,500 steps on your Fitbit each day, exercising to the Peppy-Peppy DVD so your legs would be thin, and keeping your weight in check. I know all that."

Perhaps he shrugs as a way of saying, "It doesn't matter, honey, none of that matters in the end."

Then how do I figure Christ is with me in this debilitating chemo? I both look for Jesus in the process and invite Him in:  When I sit in the chair for the infusion, I make a small sign of the cross over my heart, putting Christ there. I wear my St. Peregrine medal (patron saint of those with cancer) and my St. Michael's medal, defender against all ills.  They help me to feel safe. I look over at my beloved husband of 49 years who always shows up to drive me to appointments, sit with me, ask questions, bring me tea, and comfort me if the day is bad. How is that not Christ showing up in the guise of my beloved?

If I don't understand what's happening to my body--as in the recent appearance of some festive and painful mouth sores which made it hard to both eat and talk (two of my favorite activities)--I ask Jesus, "What fresh new hell is this? How're we gonna deal with this?"  

Maybe the only answer to that lies in something I recently read about a man praying in front of one of Rouault's paintings of Christ on the cross. He asked why his mother had Alzheimer's, how such a good person could
suffer like this? In the silence the praying man sensed Christ saying to him within, "I understand. You are not alone."  Not, "I will fix this for you, but I will stand with you in this."

When my hair fell out--a startling process even if expected--I remembered that I had made a promise to God earlier, that to ease the sadness of losing my hair (naturally curly!) I would imagine myself gathering it all on a plate and offering it up to God; "Here, this belongs to you. You created it, and I am giving it back to you."

In the end, isn't that what this whole life journey is about? Not just surviving chemo but being alive until our end comes? Then I will say to God:

This body belongs to you. I never owned it, though I thought I did. Here it is back with all of its scars, mileage, sorrows, joys, and abundance. Thank you for the loan of it. Now it is yours.